Just as the temperature is heating up outside, so too is the action inside the Octagon.
Hot on the heels of last weekend’s electric International Fight Week pay-per-view at T-Mobile Arena comes this card from the UFC APEX, headlined by a compelling clash between ranked lightweights Rafael Dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev and featuring an assemblage of emerging names scattered throughout the remainder of the card.
Historically speaking, this is the kind of card that often sneaks up on people and exceeds expectations, and the three ascending talents profiled below could be key contributors to those efforts. Each is coming off an outstanding performance that made observers sit up and take notice, and now it’s time to see what they can do for an encore.
This is the July 9 edition of Fighters on the Rise.
Borralho made an impression on UFC President Dana White last fall when, after failing to secure a contract following his victory over Aaron Jeffery in his first appearance on the Contender Series, he stuck around, asked for a second opportunity up in weight, and cruised through Jesse Murray.
He impressed everyone else last time out in his promotional debut, showcasing exceptional grappling and control in a victory over Gadzi Omargadzhiev.
From the outset, Borralho out-wrestled and out-grappled the Russian, who also joined the UFC roster as part of the DWCS Class of ’21. For nearly 14 minutes, “The Natural” was in complete control, getting the better of Omargadzhiev at every turn before throwing and landing an illegal knee that brought the fight to a close. The blow was deemed accidental and the fight when to the scorecards, with Borralho earning the decision win.
Heat-of-the-moment mistake aside, it was difficult not to come away from that fight at least intrigued by the newcomer’s upside, as the victory pushed his record to 11-1 and his winning streak to 10, with the Sao Paulo native showing excellent control on the canvas. Training with Demian Maia will do that for you, and now, Borralho makes his sophomore appearance in the Octagon against another member of the Class of ’21, Armen Petrosyan.
The former kickboxer earned a split decision win over Gregory Rodrigues in his first start in the Octagon in February after blowing through Kaloyan Kolev last fall at the APEX. It’s an interesting stylistic matchup that feels like it favors Borralho, and if the Brazilian turns in an equally impressive performance on Saturday — minus the illegal knee, of course — the interest in his upside and buzz heading into his next fight is only going to continue to increase.
Prior to his first start of the year, it feels fair to say that Nurmagomedov had underperformed based on expectations, which admittedly were probably too high to start based on his familiar last name.
After debuting with a win over Justin Scoggins in a flyweight bout in the summer of 2018, the now 30-year-old Russian moved up to bantamweight and knocked out Ricardo Ramos before dropping a unanimous decision to Raoni Barcelos and making quick work of Mark Striegl on Fight Island in the fall of 2020. Going 3-1 in the UFC is solid, but heading towards the four-year anniversary of his debut, it’s safe to say most expected greater activity and more success from Nurmagomedov.
He showed why while giving those same people hope that his breakout is on the horizon at UFC 270 in January, where he raced across the Octagon and locked up a standing modified guillotine choke on Cody Stamann in 47 seconds, kicking off his 2022 campaign with a Performance of the Night bonus and the kind of win that instantly added his name to the growing list of emerging competitors to watch in the 135-pound weight class.
Saturday night, he returns to action against Douglas Silva, a 37-year-old Tasmanian devil from Brazil who enters the fight having earned back-to-back victories and back-to-back post-fight bonuses. Last time out, “D Silva” rallied from a rugged first round opposite Sergey Morozov to stun, drop, and submit the veteran midway through the second stanza, elevating his record to 28-4 with one no contest in the process.
While not the established name Stamann was, this weekend’s clash with Silva is another stern test for Nurmagomedov, as the durable and attacking veteran has only lost to quality competition, including contenders Rob Font and Petr Yan, unbeaten featherweight Lerone Murphy, and Zubaira Tukhougov.
Securing a third straight victory and second win this year will further elevate Nurmagomedov in the talent-rich bantamweight ranks, putting him in a position to potentially garner a date with an even more established name next time out.
After getting a glowing endorsement from UFC President Dana White following his contract-winning effort on Season 4 of DWCS, Lawrence has quietly been one of the top performing graduates from recent seasons, entering Saturday’s contest with Saidyokub Kakhramonov with a 2-0 record in the UFC and a five-fight winning streak overall.
“The Heat” dominated his promotional debut against Vince Cachero, showing off the diversity of his arsenal before collecting a stoppage in the third. It took a year before he was back in the cage, but he impressed again, controlling things against Mana Martinez through the first two rounds prior to having to dig deep and show his resolve to navigate his way through a dicey third round in order to secure the decision.
Training with the crew at Sanford MMA while also mixing in work with Roger Krahl, the 30-year-old Tennessee native stays off the social media radar and doesn’t have much to say even in his pre- and post-fight interviews, preferring to let his performances speak for him, and thus far, they’ve said he’s one to watch in the bantamweight ranks.
Saturday’s pairing with Kakhramonov, which kicks off the festivities at the UFC APEX, is a compelling clash, as the sophomore from Uzbekistan enters off a short-notice stoppage win in his debut and the expectation that he’ll look even better this time around with the benefit of a full camp. He’s a well-rounded 26-year-old that won’t allow Lawrence to make any mistakes without paying for them, which should bring out the best in the DWCS alum this weekend.
Bantamweight is comically flush with talent at the moment, bursting at the seams with promising up-and-comers and Top 15 hopefuls, and standing out is difficult. But if Lawrence can step into the Octagon and deliver another impressive effort on Saturday night to secure a third straight UFC victory, folks will be forced to sit up and take notice of the quiet kid showing a ton of promise in the most talent-rich division in the promotion at the moment.
UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs Fiziev, took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 9, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!